How the World’s Oldest Hand Crafted Brass Bell Foundry Keeps Their Traditional Artistry Alive

Dylan Barth of Insider went to Agnone, Italy to visit with the Marinelli family, the longtime purveyors of Pontifica Founderia di Campane, the world’s oldest bell foundry. The family, which has been in this business since the Middle Ages, has provided bells for iconic buildings such as The Leaning Tower of Pisa and The Vatican.

The Marinelli family has been running the factory for 26 generations. Armando Marinelli sketches bell designs by hand, the same way his ancestors did it. Very large bells are cast in a pit…but it rarely happens nowadays. That’s because the foundry only operates when there’s demand.

Armando Marinelli explains how the bells are formed in clay before being cast in molten bronze. This is known as a “false bell”.

While the false bell dries, sculptors prepare the decorations. …They place the pieces of wax on the false bell. Next, they apply more clay to form the top cup, called the mantle. It provides the outside shape of the bell with the wax designs embossed into it. Once this dries, they lift the mantle to expose the false bell. Then, it’s finally time to destroy it to make way for the bronze.

Barth notes that the foundry, which has had its ups and downs throughout history, is concerned about the future.

In 1924, Pope Pius XI granted the Marinellis an official recognition. And they’ve cast many celebratory bells over the years, like the one for Pope John Paul II’s millennium jubilee. But the foundry has also seen desperate times throughout its long history. Nazi troops occupied it in World War II. And then a fire in the 1950s destroyed the original foundry and many of its historical records. Now, in the 21st century, Armando is looking for ways to keep the business afloat.

Yet somehow, the business survives.

 Overall, the family’s focus is on creating art, so the Marinellis have faith that the timeless nature of their work will help them survive.

Lori Dorn
Lori Dorn

Lori is a Laughing Squid Contributing Editor based in New York City who has been writing blog posts for over a decade. She also enjoys making jewelry, playing guitar, taking photos and mixing craft cocktails.